I Found €50 – Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Man

50EurobillI found €50 on the sidewalk today during my neighborhood walk. It was just 20 meters away from my house on my way back home. There have been workmen across the street building a new house and there are men coming and going every day.

When I found the €50 bill I looked around to see if anyone had just gone by and dropped it. No. So, I went to one of the workers and asked, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (Do you speak English?). The answer was no so I switched to my best French and explained, with plenty of gesticulation, that I had found the bill on the sidewalk and wanted to know if any of them had lost it. They looked at me puzzled. Why was I asking them if it was there’s? I had been lucky enough to find the €50 bill. They said “No.” They smiled, shrugged their shoulders and said, “Bon chance pour vous,” in French and “Boa sorte para você,” in Portuguese. Many of the construction workers in Luxembourg are Portuguese.

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I smiled and said, “Oui, bon chance pour moi.” (Yes, good luck for me.)

It is the Christmas season and I just came back from my  walk where I was listening to a Ted Talk on compassion and just being a little nicer. I have decided that I am going to take the €50 and buy goodies for the workers across the street, the mailman, my neighbors, delivery drivers and anyone else I may come across.

My birthday was last weekend and Christmas is coming up. The kids kept asking me what I want for my birthday and Christmas. I always say, “Peace on earth.” The kids are getting kind of sick of it. So, since I cannot actually make peace on earth, I have decided that I will up my game and work even harder for good will toward man.

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The Differences Between School in Luxembourg and the US

The kids have been in school here in Luxembourg for three months now. They are settling in pretty well at the European Union school considering how different things are here. I will break them down.

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Languages

I feel that learning additional languages is one of the perks of being in Europe. It is also very hard. There is not one person you meet who doesn’t know/ speak at least two and usually three to five languages. I am in awe every time I meet someone new and hear their story.

I feel embarrassed that I can only speak English, un petit peu Francais and un pequito Espanol. And I was lucky enough to at least be introduced to another language in school – German and Spanish in high school and French and Spanish in university. I can remember the German alphabet and count to 10. I have picked up a little bit of French over the years with my French husband. Most American’s do not learn anything but English; seems a little backward to me now that I am here.

There is no such thing as a second or third language in the US. “Foreign languages” are electives. We were lucky in Virginia that the kids were able to attend a French immersion class for 2-3 years when they were younger. It was a lottery system and we were lucky. Fairfax County is one of the largest school districts in the country and was able to give some kids a second language. Were were in Washington the last three years so no second language. In Washington, Juliana would have had the option to take Spanish or French this year (8th grade). In order for her to take the French class she would have had to take the high school bus (one hour earlier) to the high school, take the class and then take a bus back to the junior high school to start her regular school day. This is not exactly something kids want to do in order to learn a language. She would not have been able to take French during the regular school day until she was in 10th grade.

Children here attend a creche (day care) and there are at least three languages spoken (Luxembourgish, German, French). Then they move on to maternelle (pre-school) and continue with multiple languages and then in primary school they start actively studying a second language: usually French, English, German or a language of their parents if they attend the European School.

Since my kids did not start school here until secondary school (Luca is first year secondary and Juliana is third year secondary) they are quite behind in their second language and a third for Juliana.

Both kids have to catch up with their French quickly, but Juliana in particular. She is taking her French classes four periods a week, her Social Science (geography) and Morals classes in French four periods a week and her German class three periods a week – 11 periods. On top of that she is attending make up periods to catch up. She is taking two extra periods of French and one of German. That makes a grand total of 14 periods of French and German in one week. She is not happy about the extra classes but realizes that it is necessary for her to pass her classes. I am very proud of her. She stays late on Thursday afternoons and is quite excited when I pick her up to share her new words as she quizzes me.

Luca needs to catch up in French too. He takes French classes five periods a week and has a catch up class during his short day on Tuesday. I pick him up early two days a week and we can share his school day. He is just starting his third language, German, which is twice a week. For Luca it is a grand total of 8 periods of French and German in one week. He had a hard time with French at the beginning. It is frustrating when you don’t understand.  But now he is more excited to learn. Both kids spend time with Papa (who is French) in the evenings doing homework, which helps greatly.

School Schedule

The school schedule, now that it has been finalized, is much different than the US. It was amazing to me that the first three weeks the kids did not have an even remotely finished schedule.  I came to find out that a math teacher (yes, one person) was in charge of putting together the schedules for the entire school. Apparently this teacher was not able to get it done before school started, unbeknownst to the administration. This is a school with 2,400 students and seven different language sections with each secondary student having 45 periods a week. Now let’s have one math teacher take care of scheduling during their free time. I was told that any changes to administration procedure must go though the European Union system so it is very hard to change things.

So, when school started, the kids were given schedules that were changed multiple times the first month. Finally after six weeks they had a final schedule on paper. It makes me dizzy just trying to read schoolid2it because the type is so small. Their final ID cards and schedules were sent home two weeks ago (mid-November).

It took more than two months for us to get additional French and German support for the kids though. We even met with the director of the school and it still took four more weeks to get them the support they need to catch up in their second and third languages.

The first thing I noticed about the schedules was that Juliana had four free periods built into her schedule. Luca had one. First year secondary students have early release days on Tuesday and Thursday while third year students have an early day on Thursday. Ironically, Juliana had only three periods scheduled on Thursday, her early day, and two free periods. Of course that has changed now with additional French and German help. Luca has one free period, Wednesday, at the end of the day so I pick him up early.

There are nine periods in the day. School starts at 8:40 and each period is 50 minutes. There is a 20 minute break in the morning and lunch is one of their middles periods. School ends at 4:30 and the kids get home at 5:20. On Thursday Luca gets home at 1:40.

I get tired just looking at their schedules…

Their schedules:

lucaschedule

Luca

Monday – French (2 periods), English, ICT (Information Technology), lunch, Art (two periods), Gym, Math

Tuesday – German, Music, Science, English, French, lunch, Extra French class

Wednesday – Human Science (History), Science, Morals, Math, lunch, English (two periods), French, free period (go home early)

Thursday – Science, Math, German, Gym (two periods) – Early release

Friday – Human Science, Science, English, Math, lunch, Morals, French, Music

I pick up Luca from school two times a week – after his extra French class on Tuesday and because of his free 9th period on Wednesday.

Juliana

julianaschedule

Monday – Gym (two periods), Science (two periods), Math, lunch, French, German, English

Tuesday – Art (two periods), French, Music, ICT (Information Technology), lunch, Human Science (Geography), Morals, English

Wednesday – German, free period, Human Science, Gym, French, lunch, English, Science, Math

Thursday – Extra French, German, Morals, free period, Math, lunch, Extra French, Extra German – free period to go home early

Friday – French, free period, ICT, Human Science, Science, lunch, Music, English, Math

Teachers

Teachers are very different here. First of all, think of the stories you hear about Catholic schools and nuns – strict, non-encouraging, calling kids out on mistakes – you are close. No rulers on the hands though. It is definitely old school here. The teachers come from many countries since it is an international school. Our kids are in the English language section and have teachers from Ireland, England, Scotland and of course France and Germany for second and third languages as well as art, gym and ICT (information technology). There are no American teachers here. The teachers almost seem to enjoy calling the students out. Juliana comes home with stories about teachers chastizing kids in front of the class and making them do things over in gym class in front of the entire class. There are no warm, fuzzy teachers here, at least that I have heard of. I have met some encouraging ones though. It is even more difficult for Luca since he was in an elementary school setting where you have a homeroom teacher and stay in the classroom most of the time. Now he is in a school with 11 to 18 year olds all together switching periods nine times throughout the day.

And if you have special needs, you won’t find it here. There are no pull out classes or special education classes. If there is a problem they simply send the kids to the nurses office or the director’s office. Teachers are not really trained to work with this sort of thing. Thankfully we have only had a few episodes this year with Luca and the teachers and concierge (counselor) where able to help. I wrote a letter to each teacher explaining his PANDAS and possible anxieties in case they come up again. I have to say that all of the teachers were wonderful and understanding. But they are definitely not familiar with “issues” like the US teachers are. Perhaps because there are not that many kids with problems like ADHD and autism in this school system. That I will address another day.

Teacher Absences

One of the things that drives me crazy the most is that when a teacher is absent there is rarely a substitute. The first three weeks of school Juliana had four teachers out for multiple days with no substitute. She didn’t have her first Art class for three weeks. What happens when a teacher is out? There is a digital reader board at the secondary school building entrance that reports what teachers are out for the day. I think there was only one week so far that there was NOT a teacher out in the classroom at least once. So, what do the students do? For first year students like Luca, they go to a study room and check in and study – pretty loud and chaotic I’ve been told. For third year students like Juliana, they go check in at the study room and then can wander the campus. This usually means going to the cafeteria with their friends to get a snack and chat. The school does not seem to even try to get substitute teachers, despite what they said at Orientation Night. Luca’s math teacher was out for more than a week and no one filled in for him despite it being his vacation days and the administration knowing about it. If there are teacher training or absences for illness – no substitutes. So, some kids use it as an advantage to study or some, like my daughter, use it to buy snacks (i.e. Mars bars) from the snack machine or pastries from the cafeteria. Her payment key runs dry way too often because of snacks throughout the day. So much for me keeping her on a healthy diet with the vending machines.

Maturity/Behaviour of Kids

I know we came from a very nice, sheltered neighborhood in Kenmore, Wash. But, kids here have potty mouths (to say it nicely or “worse than a drunken sailor”) like I have never heard. Almost every day Luca or Juliana come home with stories. I know I was quite the swearer in my time (as an adult of course) but the words that come out of some of these 11-year-old’s mouths is downright horrible. Many sexual comments and the F-word is quite commonplace. I guess it’s cool to swear in English here. There is one boy in particular that is outrageously obnoxious and a bully. Luca seems to deal with him pretty well. He tries to rationalize with the bully he says. He calls him out on comments and asks him to “prove it.”

Despite that, the kids are quite nice overall. And everyone dresses quite nice. I haven’t seen any pants hanging from hineys or sweat pants. The kids are not as welcoming as Washington, but it is middle/high school so we cannot expect them to have open arms during adolescence. And, the kids are from all over the world and speak many different languages and have different cultures. Luca has been having a hard time making friends. In class and during lunch the boys only want to talk about Futbol (soccer). He also doesn’t like that the kids are constantly talking in class and he can’t concentrate because of it. I am not sure if that is any different than the US.

Juliana has landed into a group of friends that is full of drama. She is NOT happy to hear about the drama all the time. Two of her friends are Romanian and one is Korean. Romanian kids are picked on at the school so it is hard for Juliana to see it. I am trying to get her to branch out but she is very shy and doesn’t know how to initiate a new friendship. There are no Americans.

Lunch

I was so excited when I saw the menu for lunch at the school. No more processed, nasty non-food items. Although in the US, my kids brought their lunch from home and were not subjected to it. The menu lists soups, bio (organic), entrees, vegetarian, cuisine de monde (cuisine of hte world), chef’s plate of the day, pasta bar, vegetables and desserts. But, the menu is deceiving. Many times Juliana, who has the second lunch period, is not able to get the plate of the day because it is already gone or there are too many people in line. Plus many kids elbow their way in front and join their friends. So kids like mine, who are quiet and not obnoxious line-cutters, are left to the end of the line.

Most days she ends up at the pasta bar and simple gets plain pasta and some cheese sauce. No veggie, no other side, just pasta. So where are the vegetables and soups and other tasty options? That is something both kids are trying to find. The daily soup seems to be missing. The plate of the day is often already gone and nothing new to serve except pasta. Luca usually has first period lunch and can get it. He tries almost everything, fish included, and enjoys it.

tresseSo, Juliana, anticipating not getting a great hot lunch by fighting the crowds only to be turned away when she finally gets to the front of the line, gets a pastry during the morning break. She gets a tresse – a twisted pastry with creme in the middle and chocolate chips on top. I’m drooling just thinking about it. At lunch she usually gets a heaping plate of pasta which they charge €5 for. And then in the afternoon she goes to the vending machine to get a Mars bar and occasionally a fruit drink. I really wish her American appetite would change into a European palate like her brother. Luca tries everything. The gluten and sugar monster has taken over my daughter.

Here is the menu for Monday.  I hope Juliana gets the Raviolis.

Potage (soup) Potage haricort beurre – butter bean soup

Entrees bio – Salade composee au tomate et coeur d’artichaud – salad with tomatoes and artichoke hearts or coleslaw or tartare de choux fleur (cauliflower tartar)

Plat vegeterien – Poelee de legumes au basilic et tofu (fried vegetables and tofu with basil)

Clin d’oeil du chef (chef’s choice) – Supreme de volaille aux fruits exotiques  (chicken supreme with exotic fruits

Cuisine de Monde (world cuisine) – Raviole ricotta epinard sauce poires et gorgonzola (Spinach and ricotta ravioli with gorgonzola and pears)

Feculents (Pasta) – Fusilli, Riz au curry (Curry rice), Pommes de terre aux herbes (Herb mashed potatos)

Legumes (Vegetables)- Carottes Vichy, Salsifis tomatees (Salsa tomatoes), Fenouil Roti (Fennel sauteed)

Desserts – Yaourt aux fruits bios (Organic fruit yogurt), Tiramitsu maison, fromage blanc aux clementines (White cheese with clementines), Ananas caramelise au sesame (Carmelized pineapple with sesame)

 

To my American friends who are seeing the Paris tragedy from last night…

parispeacesignTo my American friends who are seeing the Paris tragedy from last night… I found out about it around 11 am this morning after receiving a message from a concerned family member on Facebook.

Yes, we are in the heart of Europe bordered by France, Germany and Belgium and just four hours by car from Paris. But, I feel safer here than I did in the US. Every day in America there are senseless shootings of innocents and it seems nobody cares enough to do something about it. But when something big happens it is a travesty and the media has a field day with it.

So, now, who do we blame? That’s the first thing that comes to mind in American society. I have seen some of the crazy tweets blaming the refugees and Islamists and even shaming Obama. Seriously?

I was at the Red Cross Refugee Center on Friday afternoon and saw a woman with her baby on her hip. I wanted to hug her not run from her.

I don’t know what the US media is sharing with America, but the French and European people and news are probably handling it much differently. As I sat on the couch this morning watching the French news, I commented to my French husband how different the American media would portray this tragedy.

Tell me if I am wrong.

American media portrayal: videos of people running and screaming for cover playing over and over on the screen; blaming, blaming, blaming every possible suspect (refugees, Islamists) before a real perpetrator was actually named; blaming President Obama for not doing enough with Syria; counting how many American’s were killed or visiting Paris and thought missing; scaring the shit out of everyone and telling them how dangerous Europe is; France’s borders are closed and no one can escape.

France’s borders are not closed. As a matter of fact, France issued an announcement earlier this week about border checks in anticipation of the 12-day UN conference Nov. 30th through Dec. 11th in Paris. Yes, people must show ID at the border, but it is a simple check for security.

“France issued a note to EU officials last month, announcing border checks at all international airports, as well as its 131 land crossings with Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The note said that Schengen rules allow controls “when there is a serious threat to public policy.”

During the hour that I watched the French news there was not one splash of carnage or injured or witnesses on the street (this is about 12 hours after it happened). Instead the French news teams were discussing how the people are coming together in support. What safety initiatives are in place to keep everyone safe. They are asking themselves why this happened and what they can do now to not have it happen again. They even had a philosopher on the news explaining what kinds of people do this. One segment was showing a long line of people giving blood. You would never see this in America. In America it is all about bringing fear and blame.

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It’s That Time of Year in Luxembourg – Change Your Tires

fallroadIt is that time of the year – the leaves are changing colors and falling, the nights are getting longer and there is a chill in the air.

Here in Luxembourg a rule was put into place in 2012 that makes in mandatory to change the summer tires on your car to winter tires by October 1st. Yes, that is right, each vehicle has two sets of tires. When we were looking at the adds for a car it was often mentioned that the car included winter tires. We soon found out what this meant. There is a very rigorous registration and inspection regime in Luxembourg that is beyond compare of anything in the US.

You won’t be fined if you don’t change the tires unless the police tag you, there is snow on the ground and they are needed or you have to go for your yearly control technique inspection.

So, I finally took our car to change the tires last week. I wasn’t sure what to expect since it is mandatory and every car owner in Luxembourg is out getting his/her tires changed during the month of October. The weather here is brutal in October as you can see in my picture. Actually it has been quite nice all month – 50s and 60s during the day and going down in the 30s a handful of nights. So, why October 1st? Why I ask for most rules in Luxembourg.

tiresBecause of the mandatory law, there are repair shops that only work with changing tires. So, I crossed my fingers and hoped for a short line. I was in luck. It only took about 40 minutes from the time I arrived until I  left. And, even better, it only cost €33 for changing the tires and balancing the wheels. I am not sure there is anywhere in the US that you would get this type of service. Now I just have to find a place in our garage to store the summer tires.

Greener Pastures Indeed

greenpasturecowkitchen

When I started my blog Greener Pastures in Luxembourg I came up with the name because my backyard is actually a green pasture. And, aren’t we all looking for greener pastures.  I have the luck to now live in a beautiful country where the city and the country blend together into a quilt of cosmopolitan and provencial. The city bus rumbles by on Rue Kohlenberg in front of our house every 20 minutes and my kitchen overlooks a pasture. A block from my house is a path that wanders through fields of wheat and corn. During the weekdays I see dozens of people jog by our house onto the path, passing cows on their midday jog. Where else in the world can you find something as eclectic as this?

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During my French class today the professor asked us to share why we like Luxembourg. The students, all middle aged and from countries around the world, all agreed that Luxembourg is cosmopolitan, calm, safe, friendly and is home to people from around the world. They shared how Luxembourg is open to people from other countries and how everyone stops to talk and get to know each other, something that doesn’t often happen in their own countries. I have to say that most of the people in my class are quite happy to be in Luxembourg. They come from countries like Italy, Spain, Romania, Japan, Turkey, Argentina and Germany, to name a few. I am still getting to know some of the students but we all feel equal and comfortable in our class. We speak in staccato, awkward French and explain our ideas as best we can about current events and where we come from and why we are here. Each of us is living in a foreign country, learning a new language and hoping to find greener pastures. I think perhaps that many of us have found our greener pastures.

Getting Sick in Luxembourg Is Definitely Different

Luca has been sick for almost a week now. He came home from school Tuesday afternoon tired and it was quite evident within a couple of hours that he was sick. He and I were up almost all night that night and there was not much sleep for the next few nights. He couldn’t sleep from the cough and fever. He stayed home from school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and seemed to be getting a little better. He still wasn’t sleeping well at night but his cough was a little better.

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In order for a child to return to school after being sick for more than two days they must visit a doctor and get a Certificat (Bescheinigung) that is certified by the doctor. We already had an appointment scheduled for Thursday with his homeopathic doctor, but since they are not recognized as doctor’s here in Luxembourg she could not give me a note. We went to the doctor (general practitioner) Friday afternoon to get this certificate so that he could return to school on Monday when he was feeling better. Thankfully the doctor’s visit wasn’t too expensive, €39 Euros, and the Certificat was €7 Euros.

So now it was just a matter of feeling better. Juliana had her Birthday party sleep over Friday night which meant Luca got very little sleep and the next day starting feeling worse again. The coughing would not stop. We tried natural remedies and essential oils throughout the weekend but he was getting worse.

Each day he missed school I contacted his counselor at school to let him know that Luca would be at home sick. Today when I contacted him and said I  had a Certificat for Wednesday through Friday he told me that I had to have a new Certificat that would cover today and any other days he was sick this week. So, this means visiting the doctor again.

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Well, since Luca was feeling worse this morning, Monday, we made an appointment with the general practitioner again. He is in fact getting worse and has some infection in his lungs so we are now going to start an antibiotic. She wrote me a new Certificat that will be good through Wednesday (since she can only write it for up to 48 hours after she has seen the patient). She also wrote me a Certificat that allows him to not participate in his gym class this week since it will irritate his cough. So, we are hoping he is better by Thursday and can go back to school.

Now it was time to go to the Pharmacie for his prescription. After standing in line for 10 minutes waiting for one older to lady count out her coins and an older gentlemen making small-talk with the cashier I had my turn. I gave her the prescription, she went in the back room and return in 30 seconds with two bottles of medicine. Her English wasn’t that good and my French is not sufficient so when she asked me if I wanted her to mix I said no. We had decided to get a liquid medicine since Luca’s throat is so sore from coughing. I assumed it was liquid in the bottle. Wrongo spagetti-O. So she told me that it costs One point seventy three as I handed her my credit card. She shook her head as I handed her my credit card and said they don’t accept credit cards for transactions under €6. I asked her again, “How much?” Then I realized that the 5-day course of Amoxicillin was only going to cost me €1.73, less than €2 Euros. My jaw hung open and I told her how surprised I was at the price. She just smiled and said, “It’s Luxembourg.”

Upon arriving at home I was a little chagrined to find that the medicine is actually in powder form. And the instructions are in German. At least if they were in French I could understand most of it. So, I got on my computer for the next 20 minutes using Google Translator to find out what the long pamphlet said in English.

amoxicillinSo, after much translating and cursing I figured out that one spoon of powder in a glass of water was how this medicine works. Luca was not excited by the taste but I learned a very good lesson –  always get the pills.

So now we hope the antibiotic kicks in, Luca feels better and he can go back to school and catch up on missing over a week of schoolwork.

And on the plus side, once we finally receive our social security cards, after waiting for more than three months, we can send in the doctor receipts for a partial refund. I don’t know how much they will reimburse us,  but it is an added bonus. And it is costs us much less here than visiting the doctor in the US.

My First Parent Association Meeting, New Italian Friends, Talking French with Luxembourgish Neighbors and Helping Put Out a Fire

It was quite a day today. I experienced my first parent association meeting in Luxembourg, made new Italian friends, talked in French with my Luxembourgish neighbors and helped put out a fire, literally.

Let’s start with this morning. After the usual rush to get the kids to the bus on time I drove to school for my first parent teacher association APEEEL coffee time meeting. The constant construction of Luxembourg never ceases to amaze me. On my 12 kilometer journey I was stopped in traffic two times by construction vehicles that take up the entire lane of traffic during rush hour and all day of course. Since there are small, narrow streets, you just have to sit there patiently and wait, along with the busses full of school children and unhappy morning commuters. When there are 2,400 students arriving at school all at once — yes preschool (maternelle), primary and secondary kids all arrive at the same time by school buses, country buses, city buses, car, bike and walking — It is quite a spectacle to see.

The meeting was quite informative and there were quite a few parents, men and women. Every time a speaker came forward the words were translated into either English or French depending on the speaker. The activities and programs that our kids will have a chance to participate in are beyond my wildest dreams. There is a Global Issues Group that students work on issues facing the world, a Fair Trade group doing fundraising and education, Les Mots de Zaza, an association helping with school books and the library, and a Peer Mediation group for students to help with Bullying in the school. One of my favorites is Actions Sans Frontieres (Actions without Borders), which raises money for NGOs, more than $41,500 last year, and then facilitates programs and projects with NGO’s that students, parents and teachers bring to the group.

actionsansfrontieres

Afterward I met some really wonderful ladies, one of which has a son in Luca’s classes. I now have two Italian friends so I can try a little Italian language learning after I get a better handle on my French. And hopefully our sons will become good friends.

In the afternoon, upon leaving the house to meet Juliana at the bus, I noticed fire and smoke coming from behind the house across the street that is under new construction. I had not noticed any workers there today so to see a fire was quite surprising. It is very windy near our house since we are on a hill and I was concerned that it might spread. The weather is really quite like Seattle – cold, windy and wet during most of the year I’ve heard. Since I have no idea how to call the fireman or police I went to my neighbors house. My neighbors are an older Luxembourgish couple who are very nice. The husband is able to speak a little English and the wife none so it took me a few minutes to try to describe to the madame about the fire, with many hand movements. Too bad I don’t know sign language. She called her husband and we discussed the situation and he called the police and firemen. When the firemen arrived I showed them the fire and tried again to communicate but it was mostly me gesturing wildly. Enough to get the job done.

Then I noticed my other elderly widowed neighbor looking on. Since she recently had heart surgery, according to my husband since I could not speak French or Luxembourgish with her, I went to her and tried to explain what had happened. We talked for almost ten minutes with me practicing my French, nodding and saying Oui. I did actually understand most of the conversation and could communicate, which actually made me feel quite confident.

So, tomorrow I have an appointment with my French language school to see what level I will need to enroll for classes. Such was my day in Luxembourg. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.